In brief: A big new update is now available to Windows 11 users, with quality-of-life improvements and a new Bing integration that brings it more in line with the general direction of the tech industry where everything is more or less infused with AI.
Those of you who were fortunate enough to test the new ChatGPT-powered Bing chat feature in the past few weeks are no doubt familiar with the way it serves detailed and convincing answers to a variety of questions that can be answered using the vast swaths of information available on the web. Now you can access that same search feature right from the taskbar in Windows 11, and this will be highlighted in the search box as well as the search flyout for people who install the latest update.
Earlier this month, Microsoft baked similar capabilities into the Edge web browser with features like Chat and Compose. The first is useful for extracting key takeaways from, say, a financial report, or comparing data from various sources. The second can help users generate lists, emails, and social media posts by giving the AI a few prompts on what to write, what tone to use, and so on.
Microsoft says the search box in Windows 11 is used by "over half a billion people on a regular basis," which explains why it wants to use it as a vehicle for promoting Bing over competing web search services. The company is also looking to integrate ChatGPT-like functionality in Office apps, although we don't have a clear timeline on when that will arrive for the general public.
That said, there's more to the latest Windows 11 update than AI smarts. For instance, you can now use a preview of the Phone Link app that allows you to link a Windows PC with an iPhone. The integration will be more limited when compared to Android devices, but you will be able to read and send messages through iMessage, answer calls, and sync notifications.
Linking your iPhone will first be accessible to Windows Insiders in the Dev, Beta, and Release Preview channels and is expected to become generally available sometime in the coming months. Android users who own a Samsung phone are also getting new integration features such as the ability to sync a browser session with a Windows PC or activate the phone's hotspot from the Wi-Fi flyout on Windows 11.
Something that will be available right away to all users is an improved widgets flyout that now includes Phone Link, Xbox Game Pass, as well as widgets from companies like Meta and Spotify. But more importantly, people who use a 2-in-1 will get a more refined touch experience with a collapsable taskbar that adapts in the presence or absence of a keyboard.
Also improved are Snipping Tool and Notepad, although the latter is a bit buggy at the moment. Now there's tab support in Notepad, but be careful when opening multiple instances of it as closing one will close all of them. Snipping Tool, which you can easily call with Win key + Shift + S, can now record any selected portion of your screen.
Other notable improvements in the latest Windows 11 update are new energy-saving settings for laptops, Braille display support, and voice access for apps. The integrated Microsoft Teams experience makes it easier to preview your video or jump into a call, and the Quick Assist app has been revamped to assist your family and friends with technical issues.